I-539 Applications are Treated as Stand-Alone Applications and are No Longer Eligible for ‘Courtesy’ Premium Processing with I-129
There is no premium processing available for any nonimmigrant status requested using a stand-alone Form I-539. Until recently, however, the USCIS would traditionally grant courtesy premium processing for I-539 applications (H-4, L-2, E-2 or O-3 applicants) that were filed concurrently with the principal’s I-129 petition if the I-129 was filed using premium processing.
The USCIS will no longer grant courtesy premium processing for Form I-539 applications. The I-129 and the I-539 applications will no longer be moving along in lockstep with the principal’s petition and are now being processed separately by the Service. This is the result of a new Form I-539 that USCIS released in March 2019, and the new biometrics requirement for each applicant and co-applicant. The USCIS is expanding its use of biometrics for the purposes of identity verification and records management. With the release of this new version, USCIS also published a new Form I-539A, Supplemental Information for Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. Starting on March 22, 2019, USCIS began accepting only the revised Form I-539 and I-539A with an edition date of 2/4/2019. The revised Form I-539 and I-539A also mandated the following significant changes:
Every co-applicant included on the primary applicant’s Form I-539 must submit and sign a separate Form I-539A. Parents or guardians are able to sign the form for children under the age of 421 or who cannot sign due to health reasons.
Every applicant and co-applicant (except certain A, G, and NATO nonimmigrants) must now pay an $85 biometric services fee.
Every applicant and co-applicant must now have their biometrics taken before the I-539 application can be adjudicated. The appointments are scheduled at the nearest Application Support Center (ASC) closest to the main applicant’s address.
The change in the process happens after the I-539 application form is filed. Following filing, each applicant and co-applicant will receive a biometrics appointment to appear at an ASC to have their fingerprints, photograph, and/or signature collected. USCIS will automatically schedule the biometrics appointment, but this can generally take three weeks or more following the filing of the application to schedule. With the addition of the new biometrics requirement for I-539 applicants, this delay will no longer afford USCIS the ability to grant the I-539 within the same 15-day period for I-129 petitions filed via premium processing, and changes the filing and adjudication requirements significantly. USCIS confirmed during a stakeholder teleconference on March 1, 2019, that it can no longer continue its longstanding courtesy practice of adjudicating the I-539 along with a concurrently filed I-129 petition filed via premium processing.
All I-539 applications are now subject to the standard processing times for Forms I-539, which are taking substantially longer to adjudicate than the principal’s I-129 petition. Processing times are available on the USCIS’ website at: https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/. Such lengthy delays can potentially have an impact on the ability for I-539 applicants to renew their driver’s licenses. As an alternative to filing the I-539, dependents may choose to apply for a derivative nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy outside of the United States once the principal’s I-129 petition has been adjudicated. Please consult your GT attorney with specific questions regarding extending dependents’ nonimmigrant status.
For more on Form I-539, click here.
*Kristin Bolayir is not admitted to the practice of law.